Sometimes reading blogs can be expensive: you read, you like, you must have… the purchase is a direct result of reading a particular post. Other times, I’ve noted indirect references to an artist rated highly by the writer and somehow added a pencil note to the old cerebral cortex. An example is the band Earth, alluded to by Victim of the Fury on a couple of occasions in recent months. Knowing his liking for the guitarier end of the musical spectrum, I sort of assumed Earth were a metal band of the, er, earthy variety. Nevertheless, when I saw one of their albums during a recent browse, I opted to take a punt. On reflection, I think this had as much to do with appreciating Victim’s posts and an interest in the writer as any particular vibe about the music, but I bought it anyway and felt quite a thrill as I loaded CD into player; it’s been a while since I’ve played something totally new and unknown. So, in honour of Mr VotF, currently walking like an Egyptian, Vinyl Connection ventures into the genre Allmusic calls ‘ambient metal’ and ticks off both ‘Explorer’ and ‘Researcher’ categories in one fell swoop.
Earth – The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull [Southern Lord Records, 2008]
It is all there in the initial seconds as the first elemental chord crashes out of the speaker and you lean forward, waiting for the second chord, for the resolve, the tension release, the skull-cracking blow. This is big. Huge. And very, very slow.
Not slow like a street sweeper or slow like that boy in Grade 5 who struggled writing his name, but slow like the inexorable grinding of continents. It is Link Wray on a rumbling Mogadon bender, funereal Tony Iommi mourning Ozzy’s absence. Like thunderclouds rolling across a blasted landscape, the waves of guitar chords and feedback brook no argument, bow to no human protestation. Mortals are insignificant to the well-ordered chaos of the hurricane. Those who venture across this Earth would do well to recall Lear’s bitter puncturing of the illusion of human agency…
“As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they crush us for their sport”
Yet painting a picture of gloom and brutality is neither fair nor accurate. In “Miami morning coming down II (Shine)” —there are no words in the songs but plenty in the titles— a brief guitar figure showers notes like gargantuan crystal bells while organ adds fluid flow underneath. (Listen) It’s a giant stirring to greet this warm Spring morning and the ground trembles in anticipation… he’s in a good mood.
“Engine room” opens with deep piano notes, which is quite surprising given the amped up guitar accompanying the keys, but amply demonstrates the beautiful mix on The Bees Made Honey. This is also one of three pieces that feature Bill Frisell on extra guitar. As if Earth needed more guitars. But Frisell is in terrific form, blending notes, effects and noise into a stew that is always thick but never glutinous.
It is a lot of noise for a trio, especially considering that percussionist Adrienne Davies clearly graduated from the Moe Tucker school of minimalist drumming. But when you think about it, the whole band is a rhythm section: guitar, bass, drums, keyboards. No soloing as such, more shifting, chiming sheets of sound based around the “electric guitars and amplifiers” of Dylan Carlson. It is utterly fitting that the amps are given instrument status.
A word about the CD package of The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull. We vinyl tragics can be quite sniffy about the poverty of the visual experience with little silver discs but Earth have done a thoughtful and creative job here. The none-more-black outer slipcase promises relentless darkness, yet removing the jewel case reveals Arik Roger’s striking cover art, a riot of fecund decay. It manages to be both beautiful and slightly disturbing.
Although I was a little weary of the lumbering key largo waves by the end of seven substantial tracks, I enjoyed this album very much. It may be all adagio ponderoso but there is an authentic commitment to uncovering beauty in these deep roiling oceans of sound. In the right mood, you can immerse yourself in a monumental unfolding. There is life on Earth.
And now, to complete a Grand Day Out, we’re leaving Earth for the moon.
At the beginning of this piece I referred to direct purchases: albums sought and obtained as a direct result of reading a fellow blogger’s review. A case in point was when I read Mr 1537’s account of the Moon Duo album Mazes. Sounded interesting to me. So much so that when I encountered the CD — with a bonus disc of remixes to boot! — I snapped it up. Liked it too, though I spent little time with the remix album. You have to know the originals pretty damn well to derive much pleasure from these (often indulgent) spin-offs, don’t you?
You’ll notice I said that I ‘liked’ Mazes, as compared with, say, fell madly in love with it and played it constantly for 7 nights and days. The latter is a pretty rare reaction these days, not due to jaundiced ears, more the sheer quantity and variety of different music that mysteriously appears at the Vinyl Connection bunker. Even the most exciting new arrivals tend to get spun then shelved. Anyway, something positive must have piqued the old musical pleasure centres, as I did not hesitate a lunar second when I saw a vinyl copy of Mazes on special earlier this year. I liked it a lot when I span the vinyl and I liked the huge orange maze too. Though I’ve kept the latter hidden from the boy and his pen.
So I decided to write about another purchase influenced by a fellow blogger (as distinct from further exploration of those Vinyl Hunter-Gatherer Categories) and I was drawn to something beamed from 1537-land. This is the one I chose.
It’s spinning on the turntable now, in all it’s garage-psych lowish-fi glory. Churning out simple but infectious grooves, it’s cut-price Velvet Underground aesthetic daring you to put up yer dukes and fight it out, then winking and cheekily pinching your bum. Perhaps it was the grinding glory of Earth that somehow infiltrated my cranial music library, or maybe the long-distance motorik beats of Neu! playing in the car today, because there is a relentless quality to Moon Duo too. Even Ripley Johnson’s voice is droney. The guitar sound —grungy and nudging distortion— varies little across the album, though Johnson’s solos are marvellous; extended workouts that soar like home-made rockets and remind me of Nick Saloman, who, as Bevis Frond, has been building guitar-based psychedelic rockets in his UK garden shed for years. I enjoy Bevis Frond songs more (Nick has a fine ear for both melody and hook), but that takes nothing away from Mazes. The phrase ‘jaunty claustrophobia’ was used by Joe and an apt description it is too. I really enjoyed Moon Duo this time around. They’ve got a niche and they scratch it.
Enthusiasm, Desperation, and enduring Scrooge-ness — 3 further categories examplified.